HELENA — Teachers, school officials and lawmakers on Monday debated whether to repeal national education standards that Montana enacted in 2013.
Republican Rep. Debra Lamm presented a proposal to the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee to remove the Common Core initiative and strip the Montana Department of Public Education of the ability to set future accreditation standards.
The move would likely undermine a 1975 Montana Supreme Court ruling against transferring any supervisory duties away from the Board of Public Education.
Supporters of House Bill 377 said students are worse off under top-down curriculum that diminishes competition and inhibits local control.
Marjorie Hughes, a retired teacher, said in support of the proposal that national standards require teachers to focus on the same lessons, which means all students must learn the same way.
“This style of learning doesn’t allow for differences in ability, interest and learning style,” Hughes said.
Laurie Barron, superintendent in Kalispell and a nationally recognized middle school principal, said Common Core does not dictate curriculum.
“The current standards don’t tell states, districts or teachers what materials to use to teach the standards or how to teach them,” Barron said. “The standards simply provide the end goal of what students must know and be able to do.”
Opponents said Common Core is more rigorous than Montana’s former standards.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau said Montana was the last of 46 states to adopt the national standards, a move she oversaw during her seven-year tenure as the state’s top education official.
Juneau said the Board of Public Education would likely challenge and win a lawsuit against removing the group’s discretion over the state’s educational programs, a responsibility granted in the Montana Constitution.
“This legislation is a constitutional overstep that also happens to be bad policy that will lower standards for our students and cause uncertainty for our schools,” Juneau said.
Students across the state will be tested on the standards this month. It will be the first time Montana has conducted statewide evaluations since enacting Common Core two years ago.
The measure passed out of the House last month on a vote of 54-46. The Senate panel took no immediate action on the bill Monday.
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